Privacy: Katz Vs. United States Essay

Katz V. The United States The petitioner Mr. Katz was arrested for illegal
gambling, he had been gambling over a public phone. The FBI attached
an electronic recorder onto the outside of the public phone booth. The
state courts claimed this to be legal because the recording device was on
the outside of the phone and the FBI never entered the booth. The
Supreme Court Ruled in the favor of Katz. They stated that the Fourth
Amendment allowed for the protection of a person and not just a person’s
property against illegal searches.
The Fourth Amendment written in 1791 states, The right of the
people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no
warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
persons or things to be seized (Galloway 214). The court was unsure on
weather or not they should consider a public telephone booth as an area
protected by the fourth amendment.
The court did state that: The Fourth Amendment protects people,
not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his
own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But
what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the
public, may be constitutionally protected.

Searches conducted without warrants have been held unlawful
notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause, for the
Constitution requires that the deliberate impartial judgment of a judicial
officer be interposed between the citizen and the police (Maddex 201).
The FBI agents found out the days and times he would use the pay
phone. The FBI attached a tape recorder to the outside of the telephone
booth. The FBI recorded him using the phone six different times, all six
conversations were around three minutes long. They made sure that they
only recorded him and not anyone else’s conversations. Katz lost the
case all the way up to the Supreme Court because the state courts and
the Court of Appeals said there was no amendment violation since there
was “no physical entrance into the area occupied by the petitioner (Hall
The Constitutional Fourth Amendment was looked at and analyzed
very carefully and the Supreme Court decided in favor of Katz with a
seven to one vote. Strong arguments were brought to the stand, the
Governments eavesdropping violated the privacy of Katz. “The Fourth
Amendment governs not only the seizure of tangible items but extends as
well the recording of oral statements (Katzen 1).” The surveillance in this
case could have been legal by the constitution, but it was not part of the
warrant issued.
Warrants are very valuable to make everything stated in the fourth
amendment legal. The telephone booth was made of glass so he was
visible to the public, but he did not enter the booth so no one could see
him, he entered the booth so no one could hear him. A person in a
telephone booth is under protection of the Fourth Amendment, One who
occupies it, shuts the door behind him, and pays the toll that permits him
to place a call is surly entitled to assume that the words he utters into the
mouthpiece will not be broadcasted to the world.
To read the constitution more narrowly is to ignore the vital role that
the public telephone has to come to play in private communication
(Katzen 2). But with all this evidence it was still fought that the
surveillance method they used involved no physical penetration into the
telephone booth. The Fourth Amendment was thought to limit only
searches and seizures of tangible property.
The decision of the court was seven to one and Justice Marshall
took no part in the decision of the case. Justice Stewart concurred in his
speech that, …these considerations do not vanish when the search in
question is transferred from the setting of a home, an office, or a hotel
room to that of a telephone booth. Wherever a man may be, he is entitled
to know that he will remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures
(Katzen 4).
Justice Stewart’s feelings on the case were that the use of
electronic surveillance should be regulated. He thinks permission should
be granted for the use of electronic surveillance. Justice Douglas, with
whom Justice Brennan joined, concurred that “The Fourth Amendment
draws no lines between various substantive offenses. The arrests in
cases of hot pursuit and the arrests on visible or other evidence of
probable cause cut across the board and are not peculiar to any kind of
crime (Galloway 216). ” Justice Harlan concurred that like a home a
telephone booth has its privacy. And the intrusion into a place that is
private is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Also, warrants are very
important in legal procedures of the court and must be followed through.
Justice White Concurred, I agree that the official surveillance of
petitioner’s telephone conversations in a public booth must be subjected
to the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment the particular
surveillance undertaken was unreasonable absent a warrant properly
authorizing it (Hall 482).
Justice Fortas and Justice Douglas concurred together and said
that the fourth amendment should be revised for todays technology.
Although the right of the fourth amendment has come up allot like the
Osborn V. United States case. Now it is time to adjust and start by
saying that the FBI “violated the privacy upon which the petitioner
justifiably relied while using the telephone booth (Levy 1097)”.

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Justice Black dissented, he could not concur because he could not
make the amendment say what it didn’t know when it was written, “I will
not distort the words of the amendment in order to keep the constitution
up to date (Katzen 15).” He believes that privacy is that only explained in
the fourth Amendment and no general right is granted, by the amendment
so as to give this court the unlimited power to hold unconstitutional
everything which affects privacy…the framers…did not intend to grant this
court such omnipotent lawmaking authority as that…for these reasons I
respectfully dissent(Katzen 15). After this case the court made some
requirements for electronic eavesdropping. Most of them were put in the
Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. There are strict
requirements for electronic surveillance. Warrants now have to be
specified for the use of electronic devices.
Works Cited
Galloway, John, (ed.) The Supreme Court and The Rights of The
Accused. New York: Facts on File, 1973.
Hall, Kermit. The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court of The
United States. New York: Oxford, 1992.
Katzen, Sally. “Katz V. United States”. FedWorld/FLITE Supreme
Court Decisions Homepage. 24 Sep. 1997.
Levy, Leonard, (ed.) Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.

New York: Macmillan, 1986.
Maddex, James, Jr. Constitutional Law: Cases and Comments. St.

Paul: West, 1979.

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